Ad pitch: Mugabe sits in his empty palatial dining room reminiscing about the friends he’s lost. Friends such as Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. As the soundtrack of Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days reaches its crescendo, we’re reminded that no one should have to eat alone. The product? Nando’s 6 pack meal deal, obviously.
This is one of the many near knuckle marketing campaigns headed by the chicken restaurant that’s seen them become one of the most well-known brands in South Africa. The documentary Pluck compiles a selection of their best and worst campaigns in order to paint an alternative political history of the country, whilst those behind the brand talk about the real-world events that shape their creativity.
Let’s be honest, any documentary that focuses solely on a company’s legacy – particularly one which they’ve given their blessing to – is in danger of being indulgent from the beginning. Thankfully, Pluck manages to fall on the right side of back-slapping. Created in 1987, the Johannesburg franchise dropped into a political landscape that was – and still is – deeply complicated. Poking fun at the establishment wasn’t just a way to get noticed. For many at Nando’s it was about defusing tension. And if they sell a bit of peri peri sauce, then so much the better. In fact, one creative remembers that he got so involved in holding a mirror up to the society that they realised three ads into their campaign that they hadn’t actually mentioned any of the products they were selling.
Amidst the lampooning and caricatures, Pluck reminds the viewer of what could be at stake. Whilst Nando’s copped its fair share of viewer complaints, with ads involving blind people and, at one point, a certain Uruguayan rugby team trying to stay alive, they could also incur the wrath of the politicians that they mocked. The aforementioned Mugabe ad resulted in threats of violence and death being aimed at staff in Zimbabwe, whilst the then leader of the African National Congress Youth League, Julius Malema took great offence to being portrayed as a literal political puppet, going so far as to demand a face to face apology.
Naturally, everything is a product of its time and some adverts will likely raise a quizzical eyebrow with their attitudes towards gender. In particular, it’s hard to fully rally for the ad exec who claims the stereotypically camp gay couple used in his campaign was championed by his LGBT friends who were just thankful for the representation. Thankfully, other talking heads are more candid when it comes to their company’s more problematic moments.
While its message of laughter is the best medicine and everyone is equal in the eyes of comedy is nothing ground-breaking, as an independent documentary, Pluck indeed wins for its approach to one of history’s more splintered political arenas.
Director Gabrielle Brady has made a moving little documentary about refugee detention centres, in this case Christmas Island. Island of the Hungry Ghosts has a number of strands that reverberate with each other metaphorically. Firstly, Christmas Island is famous for its red crab migration, where literally thousands of the little crustaceans teem annually to the sea. We follow the park rangers as they smooth a path to the ocean. They even erect temporary road signs to warn cars that the crabs have priority (not that there is much traffic).
If only we spent as much care with the human inhabitants of the island. Brady also films the trauma therapist Poh-Lin Lee, who patiently listens to refugee accounts. Using ‘sand box therapy’ she gets the refugees to recount their perilous voyages in the hope of exorcising some of their trauma.
Lastly, there is issue of Malay-Chinese who visit the island to allay the suffering of the titular ‘hungry ghosts’ – ancestors of the early migrant labourers who worked on the island and did not receive a proper ritual/burial.
All three strands concern the need for justice and care. Like the crabs, the refugees cannot go forward, only sideways. Their future is blocked. They have little hope of being accepted. At times, their stories (even when Brady is tactful enough to let some details remain unfilmed) are almost too hard to bear. One wonders how Poh-Lin Lee feels listening to these accounts, day after day, and indeed she does seem to despair at not being able to change their outcomes. Her programme is itself under threat.
The true cruelty and human cost of the so-called ‘Pacific solution’ – the internment in camps of desperate people who have struggled to come and get a new life in Australia – is constantly in and out of the news. However, Brady could not have predicted that her film would be so suddenly and unfortunately contemporary. At great financial cost, the government says it is going to re-open Christmas Island as a detention centre following the debacle over getting sick refugees off Nauru.
As indicated, Brady’s low budget film is all the more powerful for being so quiet and unhistrionic. It has been doing the festival circuit but is now getting a small theatrical release. Hopefully it will continue to move people and raise awareness.
Seven years in the making, and travelling to film festivals around the world, documentary Rockabul – following the turbulent journey of 'the only fucking metal band in Afghanistan', District Unknown – will finally screen in its filmmaker’s home town as part of the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC).
Cassandra Nevin spoke with the director of the new impact documentary, which explores the environmental and Indigenous issues facing the beautiful and still mostly unspoilt landscape of the Kimberley region in Western Australia.